Receive Email From GPHC

When Even Simple Things Get Complicated

Hyper-Polarized Politics Continues To Rock Center Stage

As the legislature moved into its first full month of activity this session, even the simple things are becoming complicated.

As we have discussed previously, the Joint Budget Committee (“JBC”) is the six-member committee of lawmakers who are responsible for drafting the state’s budget for consideration by the Legislature. This process begins each November when the governor submits a proposed budget to the JBC. The committee reviews that proposal, and with staff conducts a department-by-department, line-by-line analysis.

The JBC then makes preliminary determinations of how it will fund state government.

This process is often referred to as “figure setting.” It is customary for the committee to look only at funding governmental operations based upon then current law. In other words, the numerous pending bills that may have a fiscal impact – either positive or negative – are not taken into consideration during the initial figure setting process. The fiscal impact of those bills will be accommodated by subsequent supplemental amendments.

Policy decisions, and indeed partisan party decisions, historically rarely play out in the JBC process. The committee has viewed its responsibility to craft a budget that it will unanimously support in front of their fellow legislators.

It would appear that prior custom and practice is falling victim to the increasingly polarized political environment.

Stripping The Civil Rights Commission

In February, in a rare partisan vote, the JBC declined to establish an initial budget for the Colorado Civil Rights Commission. Republican members indicated they wanted to table consideration of the commission’s budget until a sunset review was completed.

Republican legislators have been critical of the Civil Rights Commission in light of the agency’s handling of the Masterpiece Bakery case currently pending before the U.S. Supreme Court. These legislators feel justified in their stance and insist that the commission has not been impartial but an advocate for the LGBTQ community instead of protecting the interests of the baker.

Gov. John Hickenlooper decried the JBC’s partisan action as nonsensical. In Colorado, a sunset review is a process used to periodically conduct a substantive evaluation of the effectiveness of an agency to determine if its operations should continue, cease, or continue in some modified form.

I cannot recall a time when the JBC withheld a decision to fund an agency pending a sunset review. We did not do so during my tenure on the JBC and we had the same 3-3 Republican-Democrat split that exists now.

Democratic legislators, other elected officials, former legislators (including your author) and supporters responded with a rally on the west steps of the Capitol to criticize this partisan move, demanding that the JBC set the budget for the Civil Rights Commission.

Republican leaders responded that the rally was mistimed. They maintained their caucus fully intends to fund the commission. However they say they want to evaluate substantially modifying how the commission functions in the future. This could include stipulating a certain number of members must be from the business community, and mandating that complaints be handled in a more “fair and balanced manner” – without indicating what that would potentially mean.

The bottom line remains that many Republican legislators feel the Civil Rights Commission has become an advocacy agency for Coloradans alleging discrimination in employment and public accommodations rather than a neutral fact finder for complaints that are filed. The truth is, the agency’s current statutory mandate includes both taking complaints, investigating the same, issuing determinations, and on rare occasion initiating legal action to vindicate the violation of the civil rights of Colorado’s citizens.

The future of the Colorado Civil Rights Commission remains in question. What will it say to the world about Colorado if our legislature ends it?

Keep Your Hands To Yourself

The furor over the Civil Rights Commission is simply a symptom of the underlying tension this year.

The legislature continues to be rocked by complaints of inappropriate behavior. Most recently Sen. Randy Baumgartner (R-Hot Sulphur Springs) has been accused of sexual harassment in a complaint that he slapped and grabbed the buttocks of a legislative aide multiple times during the 2016 session.

Baumgartner’s alleged behavior followed quickly on the heels of a complaint brought by Rep. Susan Lontine (D-Denver), who accused Sen. Larry Crowder (R-Alamosa) of pinching her buttocks on the floor of the House and making lewd sexual remarks on another occasion. The accused have vehemently denied the complaints filed against them, as have Republican Sen. Jack Tate, and Democratic Reps. Paul Rosenthal and Steve Lebsock – all of whom also have been the targets of sexual harassment complaints.

All of these allegations have continued to fuel a more partisan flavor in the debate.

Democrats have accused Senate President Kevin Grantham of not adequately disciplining Baumgartner, Tate or Crowder. By contrast, Democrats Lebsock and Rosenthal were immediately stripped of committee chairmanships and vice-chairmanships. Sen. Lucia Guzman, the Democratic Senate Minority Leader, resigned from the committee responsible for investigating such complaints brought, citing the need to bring greater attention to the severity of the situation.

As can be expected, members of both parties are calling for the accused legislators to resign any leadership positions, and even from the Legislature. All of these demands and cross demands are being made before the complaints have been resolved by virtue of the process the Legislature established for itself earlier this year.

I believe the substance of the complaints are disturbing and need to be fully investigated by a fair and impartial party. That impartial party should provide findings of its determination in each specific instance after the accusers and the accused have had a full opportunity to present their sides and any supporting witnesses or other information.

Although such behavior is unacceptable, the partisan rush to judgment is disturbing and is having a visible and palpable impact on the ability on the Legislature to do its work this session. Legislators are accusing one another of being liars and are now beginning to threaten court action. This environment is not conducive to doing the work of the people or the efficient management of the government of the state of Colorado.

I find it depressing, disheartening, and extremely disturbing. I also find the ongoing public claims and recriminations back and forth as simply diminishing the integrity of a vital institution. This needs to stop. Adults need to keep their hands to themselves and behave and everyone needs a little thicker skin – if for no other reason than the fact that it is a necessary attribute to have while working in the Legislature.

Robbing Peter And Paul

Concerns over the Public Employees Retirement Association (PERA) continue as a bipartisan panel is trying to draft a solution to a reported funding gap of $32.2 billion to $50.8 billion. Increased taxpayer contributions, increased member contributions, reduced benefits and delayed eligibility are all likely to be part of the mix.

The percentages of each in the solution mix is where the real trouble starts. The recent death of the PERA Executive Director Greg Smith, combined with state Treasurer Walker Stapleton’s politicizing of the situation as part of his gubernatorial campaign, make it unlikely that we will see a swift bipartisan solution.

Yet a creative solution is required and many have been offered in the past. Had the Treasurer and Senate committed to the legislation for the pension bond borrowing for PERA offered in 2015, PERA would be sitting in a much stronger position today. A review of PERA’s history illustrates that many on both sides of the aisle and the executive and legislative branches are responsible for the current situation.

No solution will ultimately be effective if the Legislature and the Governor’s office do not commit to fully funding the actuarial requirements of PERA on an annual basis.

We have robbed Peter and Paul and now they are both broke and PERA and its retirees are the ones suffering.

Whither Amazon Or Olympics?

Locally, many in the city and the neighborhood have been talking about the current economic development efforts surrounding a potential Amazon move to Denver, and a possible Olympic Winter Games bid.

While neither is a certainty, many have begun discussing the potential impacts.

The Amazon bid comes on the heels of Colorado being notified that its proposal is among the 20 finalists. While this satisfied a number of people in the economic development community, many locals seemed strangely indifferent. This indifference appeared to be echoed by the Governor who said there might be a “sense of relief” if Amazon did not choose Colorado.

Similarly Colorado’s history with the Olympics is well known. In 1972 the state passed a referendum banning public spending for the Olympics in Colorado. Nonetheless, Denver has convened a committee to begin “listening” to residents about their receptivity to a bid for 2030.

Each of these initiatives is playing out in the context of continued community angst over the inexorable push of gentrification throughout the city.

So how do you feel?

Email us at and let us know if you support or oppose Amazon in the Denver area and if you support or oppose the Olympics coming to Colorado.

Talk to you next month.

Penfield W. Tate III is an attorney with Kutak Rock and serves on a number of nonprofit boards. He represented Park Hill in the Colorado House of Representatives from 1997 to 2000, and in the State Senate from 2001 to February 2003, when he resigned from the Senate to run for Mayor of Denver. Penfield’s adult daughter was born and raised in Park Hill, and he and his wife Paulette remain in the neighborhood.

Get Involved!

Become a GPHC Member today
All levels support our ongoing efforts in the community and in addition to discounts on GPHC events and local retailers.